Article Comment 

Conflict brews over sidewalks

 

Rupert “Rudy” Johnson discusses the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District’s plan for expansion Friday in front of the organization’s existing building on Miley Road in Starkville. Johnson is at odds with Starkville officials over an ordinance which would require the GTPDD to install new sidewalks along a portion of Miley Road and C.C. Clark Road before the city issues an occupancy permit for the new building.

Rupert “Rudy” Johnson discusses the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District’s plan for expansion Friday in front of the organization’s existing building on Miley Road in Starkville. Johnson is at odds with Starkville officials over an ordinance which would require the GTPDD to install new sidewalks along a portion of Miley Road and C.C. Clark Road before the city issues an occupancy permit for the new building. Photo by: Tim Pratt

 

Tim Pratt

 

 

As Golden Triangle Planning and Development District Executive Director Rupert "Rudy" Johnson walked along the edge of Miley Drive Friday morning, he looked west and eyed Southwire and Clark Distributing Co. 

 

Johnson then looked east, where he saw 1.5 acres of swampy woodland, then Pritchard Engineering and Dancing Feet Academy in the distance. 

 

"How many sidewalks do you see around here?" Johnson asked. "None. How many people do you see walking around here? None. It''s an industrial park. Why would anybody want to put a sidewalk in an industrial park?" 

 

He recently asked city officials the same question. 

 

The Golden Triangle Planning and Development District wants to construct a new 14,000-square-foot building just north of the existing GTPDD offices on Miley Drive for local senior citizens. It would serve as a community center with activities and events for the more than 2,000 seniors who use the GTPDD annually, Johnson said.  

 

But according to the city''s sidewalk ordinance, passed by the previous Board of Aldermen in May 2009, the GTPDD would be required to construct roughly one-fourth mile of sidewalks along Miley Drive and C.C. Clark Road before the city issues an occupancy permit for the new building. The project already is expected to cost $1.6 million, Johnson said, plus an extra $25,000 for the sidewalks, as required by the city.  

 

 

 

Sidewalk to nowhere 

 

"Why should we spend $25,000 for a sidewalk that goes to nowhere?" Johnson said, looking up and down Miley Drive, where no sidewalks were in sight. "It makes absolutely no sense to put a sidewalk in an industrial park." 

 

Johnson''s situation isn''t unique. The sidewalk ordinance has drawn scorn from developers and property owners since it was passed last year. 

 

According to the ordinance, sidewalks are required in all new single-family residential and commercial subdivision developments. The ordinance also requires sidewalks in all other new non-single-family residential or non-agricultural development projects, or when construction improvements on an existing property equate to 50 percent or more of the appraised taxable value of the property.  

 

Starkville''s current Board of Aldermen has enforced the ordinance since they took office in July 2009. The board''s unwillingness to grant variances caused at least one developer to pull a proposed project out of the city, while several others have complained regularly to city officials, saying the ordinance creates a patchwork of walkways around town. In some areas, such as newly constructed Fire Station 5 at Reed Road and Highway 25, a sidewalk is built in front of the structure, but the concrete ends at the neighboring property line, where there are no more walkways. 

 

"There has to be some kind of variance or exemption," Johnson said. "You can''t take this ''one-size-fits-all'' approach." 

 

Repercussions 

 

The GTPDD is considering moving out of Starkville, primarily due to the sidewalk issue, Johnson said. The relocation would take more than 200 jobs out of the city, plus the jobs potentially created by construction of the new building. 

 

Johnson hasn''t yet set a timeline for a possible move. 

 

"I''m looking for land (in other counties), but for right now we''re just going to sit back and wait," Johnson said.  

 

Johnson is waiting to see whether or not the Board of Aldermen amends the sidewalk ordinance to allow variances or exemptions. The board voted recently to send the sidewalk ordinance back to the transportation committee for possible revisions. 

 

One option would be to establish a procedure for property owners or builders who want a variance, said Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker. The variance request could go before the city''s transportation committee, formerly known as the sidewalk committee, and the transportation committee could then make a recommendation to the Board of Aldermen on whether or not to grant a variance.  

 

 

 

Case by case 

 

If aldermen do agree to amend the ordinance to allow variances, the city first would hold two public hearings on the matter, Parker said. The first-term alderman said he is in favor of a process which would allow the city to grant variances. 

 

"I think we need to look at these situations on a case-by-case basis," Parker said. "I don''t think we should look at every single instance or development, but I think there are cases where a variance makes sense. So, I''m in support of variances for sure." 

 

Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill shared a similar sentiment.  

 

"Some sort of variance probably is appropriate," Spruill said. "But you shouldn''t get a variance just because you don''t want to build a sidewalk." 

 

 

 

Sidewalk supporter 

 

Dr. Bethany Stich, a member of the transportation committee, isn''t swayed by Johnson''s opposition to sidewalks adjacent to the GTPDD property. She said a significant number of industrial park employees don''t have access to automobiles and would benefit if more sidewalks are built.  

 

"First off, our industrial park is not a traditional industrial park," Stich said. "It''s got the soccer field and a gymnastics studio, so it''s not a traditional industrial park. Second, those are employment centers. We have a high percentage of low-income residents in this town that don''t have access to automobiles. If we want to get these people to work and their jobs are in the industrial park, we need to provide safe infrastructure for them to do get there." 

 

Stich also said a new sidewalk along C.C. Clark Road would connect the existing GTPDD building with the organization''s proposed new building and the former Dux D''Lux structure, which was purchased recently by the GTPDD. The GTPDD plans to renovate and improve the former Dux D''Lux building if it can build the new senior center.  

 

 

 

''Dangerous precedent'' 

 

"When the new (GTPDD) building is finished, sidewalks will do nothing but make walking between buildings more conducive for their own clientele -- not just for the city of Starkville," Stich said. "You can''t have it both ways. It can''t be ''Because it''s an industrial park, we don''t need sidewalks,'' then put the senior enrichment center there. It would be unsafe for the seniors to walk around." 

 

Stich also doesn''t like Johnson''s threat of moving the GTPDD out of Starkville, saying it would set a "dangerous precedent" if the Board of Aldermen gave in to Johnson''s demands.  

 

"There shouldn''t be an exception just because he threatens to move (the GTPDD) out of the city," Stich said. "That''s borderline unethical, if nothing else." 

 

Parker said he hopes the city can establish a procedure for granting variances within the next three months.

 

 

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment feduptaxpayer commented at 8/29/2010 8:47:00 AM:

First, if rudy does spend the 25k for the sidewalk in front of his building- when will the city build the rest of the network so these pedestrians can get there? Use a little common sense- look around starkville and see where the peds have worn down the grass by walking. These are the places sidewalks are needed. Not at the gtpdd. How many people do you think will beat down a path to get to the new fire station on reed road? That sidewalk was built with taxpayer money. There is no room for common sense with this ordinance. You build building- you build sidewalk. No decision making process is involved. One of the duties of our elected officials are to make decisions- in this case it is easy. You must comply or else. I bet rudy's phone if ringing off the hook from surrounding communities that have available property he could move into tomorrow. Wake up taxpayers. Be assured this is not the only city policy that has turned other developments away. Wake up city hall! Get a mindset of telling people what they can do instead of what the can't. Gotta go- soapbox just collapsed.

 

Article Comment btuman commented at 8/29/2010 10:05:00 AM:

well Rudy is also spending taxpayer's dollars also here. Rudy has had an attitude for a long time that he runs a little kingdom not a funded service. We forget the issues a couple of years back about fees for garbage pickup and how many millions of dollars were in the bank account at this place.

Let him move!

 

Article Comment starkvegan commented at 8/29/2010 2:56:00 PM:

Of course the GTPDD is being asked to build a "sidewalk to nowhere". Starkville has not built sidewalks in 50+ years. Someone has to be the first. There will be many sidewalks to nowhere. Then, after while we will hear people complaining about the gaps in the sidewalk network. Then, some years from now, Starkville will have a complete and growing sidewalk network. That's the point of the ordinance.

I have sidewalks in front of my house. Yesterday (a pretty Saturday), I bet literally 100+ people walked down the sidewalk. The ugly truth is that Starkville has been long dominated by automobile-centric greedy developers with thinking stuck in the 1950s.

GTPDD, build the sidewalk and celebrate your actions in your advertising as being a community-minded. If you don't want to build the sidewalk, then leave. Do it quietly and quickly. Let us that want a better place to live get on with it. It will be good riddance to the close-minded status-quo leadership at the GTPDD.

PS: Read this cdispatch article from some days back to see that what Starkville wants is not unique.... not even in Mississippi: http://www.cdispatch.com/opinions/article.asp?aid=7436

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 8/29/2010 4:00:00 PM:

Man o man, if we could join the "sidewalk to nowhere" with the "bridge to nowhere" in Columbus, we'd be freaking brilliant and I bet all them dumb Yankees would come from all around to see it.

We'd be rich I tell ya, rich!!!!

 

Article Comment doj commented at 8/29/2010 4:18:00 PM:

Wouldn't work, coltrain. Even with sidewalks, they'd still walk down the middle of the street 3 or 4 abreast.

 

Article Comment intheknow commented at 8/29/2010 5:57:00 PM:

Either Rudy is lying or he is being duped by his contractor. There is no way that sidewalk costs $25,000. As a Starkville citizen in the construction industry I know first hand the frustrations people are having with increased requirements on construction. But it would seem that this wouldn't be a shock that comes up as you are applying for a building permit. You would think the GTPDD's architect would review or ask the city for requirements way before this point. Its not a new ordinance.

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 8/29/2010 8:38:00 PM:

In the words of Homer Simpson: Doh!!

I see 6 didn't like the comment. Wonder if they are Yankees or just jealous of our bridge to nowhere?

Like it matters.

 

Article Comment rbmjrucla92 commented at 8/29/2010 11:39:00 PM:

I can't believe y'all are having this debate. Having lived in seven other states I can honestly say I've never lived in one that did not have sidewalks in industrial parks. Failing to build them is shortsighted and assumes the park will never grow. As the park grows and there are more employees, some of them will want to go for a walk during their lunch breaks instead of driving over to Sonic for a heart attack meal. Do the right thing...build the sidewalks!

 

Article Comment expat commented at 8/30/2010 9:17:00 AM:

The effort to build sidewalks must start somewhere. When I first moved to Starkville 2 years ago I was supprised at the absence of sidewalks along Rte 12 through town. People literally have to walk in the streets in some areas. This is a shameful situation. I've also built plants in industrial parks in several states where I was required to include sidewalks in my projects. Even industrial parks have people who may walk or ride bikes to work. Wake up folks and join the modern age......

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 8/30/2010 9:22:00 AM:

Modern age? In Mississippi? Have you been sniffin' the Sharpie Pens again?

We like our walkers in the street. That way we don't have to run up on the curb when we get the notion to hit one of them.

 

Article Comment msudad commented at 8/30/2010 9:28:00 AM:

Southwire added a huge addition down the street from Rudy's place of business. I haven't noticed any sidewalks being built on that corner. What's up with that? I think it ridiculus to add side walks out there. I wish the city would actually construct some bike lanes. Their idea of a bike lane is a white stripe painted on an existing street. The city and county should build a stand alone bike lane down South Montgomery. If the city wants an interconnected network of sidewalks, then just increase the taxes and build some every year. That way we won't have to wait for 50 years to see this interconnected walkway.

 

Article Comment mississippian commented at 8/30/2010 1:04:00 PM:

Way to go Rudy. Bring those jobs to Columbus and they will not make you put in a sidewalk. The bridge in Columbus is one of the last remaining swing bridges in existance and is soon to join as part of the riverwalk.

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 8/30/2010 4:30:00 PM:

Yeah, Mississippian, and when you get done paying for it, guarding it, repainting it, cleaning the tags off of it, diverting Police to run kids off of it, and all the other LIFETIME duties you'll be paying for, you know about a swinging bridge.

And I bet no one comes here to see it that wasn't already coming here.

 

Article Comment paladin commented at 8/31/2010 2:44:00 PM:

This sidewalk ordinance is ridiculous - much like the rest of what the Aldermen pass. It looks silly to see some of these sidewalks that just go a few yards and then end. What good is this doing?

Take a look at our new Waffle House. What good is that sidewalk? Was it really worth it to put in? Do you really think Sonic is going to ever build a sidewalk to connect the Waffle House to the 1911 shopping area? Not a chance.

The city should be responsible for sidewalks. Otherwise, we'll have more of this.... incomplete sidewalks that do no good. This ordinance is just a cheap & lazy way for them to avoid doing anything.

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 9/1/2010 5:33:00 AM:

You Starkvegasians should put Rupp in the drivers seat. No, wait a minute, he'll just bail out of the car after he gives himself a fat raise.

Nevermind.

 

Article Comment feduptaxpayer commented at 9/1/2010 8:45:00 PM:

While we are spending other folks money, lets extend the starkville airport runway so it could handle a 757- it may come eventually--probably before the sidewalk network.

 

Article Comment feduptaxpayer commented at 9/1/2010 8:53:00 PM:

Exactly paladin. The sidewalk at the waffle house will be useless. Wonder if they got a highway permit?

 

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